Smart Machines & Factories
The importance of innovation & digital transformation in production engineering
Published:  19 February, 2021

It is vital in every industry to make the most of technology and innovation, and few more so than in engineering. Chris Joy outlines why digital transformation is important for smaller engineering firms.

Improving efficiency is a vital part of running a successful engineering business at any level. Investing in Computer-Aided Design (CAD) has been transformational for our business and essential for us to continue competing with bigger manufacturers. Tadweld delivers bespoke steel fabrication projects where every job is driven by unique specifications and efficiencies are gained by interrogating the specifications and providing feedback to the customer.

For all our production engineering projects, we use a combination of technical drawing and CAD, but it seems likely that CAD will completely take over with more than half of our workforce now trained and using the software regularly. CAD is certainly something we plan to continue investing in however, the nature of our work means we’re unlikely to see our engineers replaced by computers which is why we use a hybrid model that embraces innovation whilst retaining a people-first approach.

Computer-Aided Design

We’ve used CAD for more than 20 years and the software has progressed monumentally, reshaping our operations and overhauling processes throughout the production engineering industry.

When we first adopted CAD, Nestlé – one of our key customers – had started sharing drawings and specifications using the software, so we made the decision to invest in the technology to retain cross-compatibility with customers and supply partners and stay at the forefront of technological development. CAD now uses 3D-design, allowing even more comprehensive mapping of production engineering projects. For us, the key is keeping our team comfortable with these technological developments is providing ongoing training support.

Technical drawing remains a big part of what we do; the ability of our team to sketch ideas on site visits and then build the detail on CAD is an effective way to work. CAD is vital, but our mix of approaches illustrates why we advocate a hybrid approach and value offline skills alongside technological innovation.

Infrastructural Investment

As with most technological upgrades, CAD isn’t a one-off cost. Our spend on software totals thousands of pounds annually per workstation, and updates are necessary to ensure that everyone is working on compatible versions. You also need a reliable network infrastructure because, if your network goes down unexpectedly or for a long time, it is certainly harder to make the shift back to pencil and paper to get the job done.

Digital transformation goes beyond the four walls of the workshop and requires a robust infrastructure to support it. For some smaller firms it is a barrier to entry, but the savings in materials and labour time are felt almost immediately, making it a worthwhile investment. Tadweld works closely with firms across Europe, so having cross-border compatibility saves time, site visits, and opens up new revenue streams.

An invaluable advantage of CAD is that it enables engineers to demonstrate designs – or specific elements of larger designs – without creating prototypes, saving money and time whilst getting projects signed off with confidence.

Initially businesses may baulk at the cost of new technologies but, for us, CAD is a prime example of an investment that has paid for itself many times over allowing us to win projects that previously would not have been possible.

Chris Joy is operations director at specialist fabrication engineer Tadweld